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As Junk in the Trunk Vintage Market Expands, Its Founders Reflect On Their Journey

What began as a backyard market in 2011—built on a collective love for vintage items and the hope of supporting small businesses in the process—has since evolved into one of the most anticipated traveling markets across the country. The concept behind Junk in the Trunk Vintage Market came to founders Coley Arnold and Lindsey Holt nearly a decade ago, when they were simply looking for a new creative outlet and a way to dive further into the world of vintage shopping—a hobby that immediately bonded them both in the beginning of their friendship.

“We ended up accidentally starting a business with Junk in the Trunk,” joked Arnold.

The Market has since welcomed well over 225,000 shoppers through its doors across Arizona and California, and has helped to support more than 2,500 small businesses. 

With the news of another pop-up storefront from the brand set to open, we had the opportunity to interview Arnold and Holt about the beginnings of the niche market and how COVID actually inspired them to take the brand to the next level. [This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Fabulous Arizona (FA): Briefly walk me through the beginnings of Junk in the Trunk and how you two specifically met.

Coley Arnold (CA): Lindsey and I met at church actually, and we were both in a young marriage class, and we kind of bonded over our love for junk and also kind of needing another pastime. We wanted to do something that was creative and that gave us the space to focus on ourselves and off our kids for a minute. We ended up accidentally starting a business with Junk in the Trunk. I’ve had a passion for finding and refining vintage things, Lindsey had painted barnwood signs and had had huge success selling them on Etsy. And I was painting furniture in my garage and selling it on Craigslist. So, we kind of combined the two things, got a few friends together, and jumped into something that ended up being way bigger than we ever thought it would be. And we haven’t turned back.

FA: Success is rarely linear. But I will say that the evolution of Junk in the Trunk, and just your brand as a whole, has seemed to continue rising. What setbacks have you had to encounter that you think have helped to make you the entrepreneurs you are today?

Lindsey Holt (LH): I think for us the biggest thing was just taking time to let the business grow organically, and to not push too far ahead of what people–and shoppers–were ready for. I think a lot of our setbacks came when we tried to push too hard, and the demand wasn’t there. Maybe it was trying new locations that didn’t work, or just in general things didn’t always go the way that we wanted. But I think that’s also a huge part of entrepreneurship and being able to take those situations and learn from them. If it doesn’t seem like that’s where you should be going or you get some resistance, then it’s about being willing to pull back and try something different. And I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve learned in business is being able to take those setbacks and then allow it to move you in a different direction.

FA: And as Coley said, you both were interested in the vintage market and sort of that facet of design and decor before you even launched the market. But I’m curious coming from both of you, what’s so special about vintage in particular, and why do you think there’s such a large community of people who really connect with it and want to shop it?

CA: I think vintage is unique because it has such a history, and so anyone can go to a big box store and get a full complete bedroom set or living room set. But when you kind of style slowly over time and take pieces that either were passed down from family or that you find on a trip or something that has a little bit of a backstory, it creates instant character to your home and it’s something that kind of creates that warmth that you just can’t recreate with new goods. And I feel like it’s not just the story of the history behind each piece, but it’s also the story of where you found it because I think the hunt is part of the fun of it. So, a lot of times the story of how you found each of the pieces is far more exciting and it has a lot more meaning to you than something you just went to Target to get. 

FA: Definitely. And, going back to how Junk in the Trunk has just evolved so quickly, how much do you both really attribute something like social media to the expansion of your business? And how would you advise other entrepreneurs to maybe really tap into that space to grow their own brand?

CA: Luckily, we actually started our business when there was no social media; Facebook was around but Instagram didn’t exist. Shortly after, we started tapping into Instagram because my sister-in-law was like, “You guys need to get on this Instagram thing.” So, we did and we kind of naturally grew this huge following, which has been really fun. Now, granted, it’s changed a ton over the last 10 years. And I honestly have no advice for right now, because it’s such a mess [LAUGHS]. But what we did find out was that people just want to connect–they want to connect with the owners of the business, they want to know your why. I think that the beauty of social media is that when you can kind of share your story and be vulnerable out there and kind of show the true journey, that’s where social media comes in handy. And again, I think once people connect with you, they are way more loyal.

FA: In terms of business management, you both are obviously friends and business owners, and you’ve had that friendship established long before Junk in the Trunk. But I’m curious, what’s the dynamic of that relationship like in terms of how you approach entrepreneurship and sort of comanaging this incredible business that you’ve built?

LH: It’s changed a lot over the last 10 years. And, honestly, that’s the biggest thing is just being able to adapt and change. I think we each kind of have our roles within the business of what we manage and what we are in charge of. And then, the biggest key for us is just communication. We have multiple meetings a week where we sit and have conversations about talking through all of the things that are happening in our own lanes, and just being able to have open lines of communication where we’re letting each other know what’s happening within the business. When we started, we were hanging out and then we’d happen to talk about business because it was something new and exciting. Now, there’s unfortunately not as much time to just hang out anymore, so we have to be more intentional. 

FA: Obviously, you both have different roles within the business and different things that you can contribute. This might be kind of a hard question–but coming from both of you, what would you say are your professional superpowers that you’re able to bring to the management of the business? No pressure [LAUGHS]!

LH: Well, I think it’s actually easier for me to answer for Coley, so I would say her superpower is communication. She’s very good at communicating with our vendors and with our shoppers, and being able to have conversation easily that does not come as naturally for me. 

CA: Lindsey does an amazing job of really just keeping us on task and organized. And she manages the communication in terms of getting them all of the details and getting contacts out and making sure everyone’s paid and aware of what they’re supposed to do. And so she kind of keeps us moving that way. She’s also now in charge of getting all the products for our store. It’s really fun, but I also know, it’s not easy. She spends hours figuring out what people are gonna want to buy. But it’s so great getting to see something that she has picked out, and then watch the customer get so excited. She really has a knack for that.

FA: You guys are adorable. I’m fully obsessed that you both just answered each other’s [LAUGHS]. So, now to the inevitable COVID questions. When COVID hit, what were your initial reactions? Did you have to take a step back and reassess the business plan? Or were you already interested in maybe pursuing more of a pop-up shop project, and did the events of the last year give you the opportunity to really jump into that endeavor more?

LH: A little bit for sure. 

CA: There’s definitely been things that we’ve talked about for years that because of the slowdown, it kind of forced us into talking about that and making things happen that we probably wouldn’t have maybe done if it didn’t happen. So, there’s definitely good that’s come out of it. We were joking recently because we opened our new store in February this year, and a month later, the world shut down. And I remember sitting there when they made the call, and we were sitting in the store and we were like, “Well, we’ve gone through every single scenario in our heads of how a business would fail, and this is not one of them [LAUGHS]. So, it definitely threw us for a loop. And I think for the first month we were kind of in shock and going, “OK, how are we going to stay alive and manage this?” Then we kind of just hit the ground running. And over the last year, we’ve launched an online marketplace, created pop-up shops that we’ve been talking about for years, and we just opened another one. And so all of these beautiful things have come out of this hardship. But it definitely wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t easy. But it’s been fun to kind of push ourselves and do things that we maybe wouldn’t have done otherwise.

FA: Speaking of having to pivot, did you both anticipate the success of the holiday pop-up shop or that it would play out so well? And now as I understand you’re going to be doing another one just a few doors down from the other location. Could you have predicted all of this success? Does it give you inspiration to continue to expand?

LH: I think we knew it would be successful on some level, just because it was the holidays and people were still shopping. I feel like this year, even more so than any other year, people wanted to shop local, and they wanted to support small businesses. We knew that we had created a community that also really wanted to support small, but at the same time, we had no idea how successful it would be. It was definitely far more successful than we could have hoped. But at the same time, I think it definitely has caused us to reassess our business, which I think we were starting to kind of do already, we had already talked about pivoting more to smaller pop-ups. But again, as COVID hit, it forced us to do those things more quickly than we had originally planned. But we were pleasantly surprised by the outcome of it. And we’re excited to have a new opportunity and a new outlet for our vendors to be able to sell and a new way for us to be able to reach our community in a way we didn’t think was possible. And maybe in some locations we didn’t think it was possible either or would have always been available before. So, it’s been a pleasant surprise. 

CA: One of the things I think we pride ourselves in is we always say there’s something for everyone in our markets. And I think a big part of our business too, which we haven’t really touched on, is our vendors and the way that they’ve now become our family. When COVID hit, it was really hard to see all of them suffer, because for a lot of them, this market is their only way of providing for their families. So, to be able to provide any kind of way for them to be able to sell and to reach our community of shoppers who were wanting to support small businesses, was really important for us. 

FA: If this last year has really taught us anything, it’s that it’s impossible to anticipate what’s coming or know what lies ahead. But for you both as business owners, what would you really say are your key goals that you want to carry into the next year?

CA: I think the bigger we get, the more we realize that community is really the base of all of our businesses. And so we obviously couldn’t get in big groups this past year, but that community was the drive to still do all of the things that we did. I don’t see that changing. And I think if anything that will actually become more apparent with all of our brands, and figuring out how to bring the community together in different ways. Our vendors are going to be our main focus in terms of how to continue to connect them to our shoppers, and I think coming up with creative ways to do that is going to be really fun and seeing what comes next. We have a lot of things in the works for the Junk in the Trunk brand and some things we can’t share just yet, but I definitely think that the community aspect will be still the main driver of everything we do moving forward.

Following their successful two-month holiday pop-up storefront at Scottsdale Quarter, Junk in the Trunk has opened up another storefront that will be open through April of 2021. For more information, visit www.junkinthetrunkvintagemarket.com. Article photo by Sydney Jones.

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